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Zero hunger
Carmen Herrera
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Campesina families benefit from government initiative to fight hunger.

In an effort to fight hunger and ensure food security for the country’s poor campesina families, President Daniel Ortega launched the Zero Hunger campaign May 5.

The initiative, named after a similar program pushed by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio da Silva, is part of Nicaragua’s efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, especially halving extreme poverty by 2015.

“Zero Hunger is one of the components of the government’s national development policy,” said Gustavo Moreno, director of the country’s Food Production Program, of which Zero Hunger is a branch. “It’s basically a food security program that is accompanied by education, health care” and infrastructure programs, he said.

Some 70 percent of the 5.6 million Nicaraguans live in extreme poverty, a figure that rises to 75 percent in the country’s rural areas, according to the Food Production Program.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that 27 percent of Nicaraguans are undernourished, meaning that their calorie intake is less than what their bodies require.

The program’s total cost is US$150 million, and seeks to reach some 75,000 campesina families over the next five years, 15,000 families a year.

Each family would receive a $2,000 package to help them produce their own food, 20 percent of which they will have to return to a rural bank to ensure the program’s continuity.

A starter package
The package includes a cow and a sow, both of them pregnant, five chickens, a rooster, construction material to build a shelter for the animals, fertilizer, seeds, fruit trees, a stove and accessories.

“It’s the start of a program that tries to encourage the production of food for the families and communities themselves to benefit,” said Moreno. “The second phase includes the transformation of all of these products for a local market, then for the national market, and in the third phase to achieve a surplus for exportation. We’re talking about agroindustry.”

“The food production credit represents the transferring of valuable goods to poor, rural families,” he said, adding that while the goods go to the family, they are registered in the name of the female head of household.
The package also includes organizational support, training in running cooperatives, training in livestock and poultry’s nourishment, health and management.

The beneficiaries must fulfill three requirements to be eligible: need, will and ability. They must not be attended to by other programs, but they must already have 1.7 acres of land in humid areas and 5.2 acres of land in dry areas.

For this year, only residents in the capital, Managua, and in the northern departments of Esteli, Nueva Segovia and Madriz as well as the Autonomous Caribbean regions can apply.

The program will also support rural food producers and small urban businesses with credit pregnant or nursing women with nutritional programs, and children attending school with food.
“Because of its size, the program will become a real national investment program that will produce cattle, pig and poultry repopulating by delivering 75,000 cows, 75,000 pigs and 450,000 chickens” to people, said the government.

Some 300 nongovernmental development organizations will provide additional support to the plan. “It’s a challenge for us to participate in a program that collaborates to reduce hunger in marginalized sectors since it tries to be an alternative to overcoming rural families’ food deficit,” said Maribel Flores, a member of the New Generation Foundation. “The most important part is that it is the woman who administers the goods that are assigned.”

Outside influence
But Roberto Stuart, coordinator of the Mesoamerican Information System on Sustainable Agriculture, said having nongovernmental organizations administering the program could be counterproductive.

“They propose that people work who aren’t a part of the community, neither ideologically or custom-wise,” he said. “Those are variables that must be taken into account when assessing the program’s impact.”

Stuart also worries that the program lacks important logistical aspects, such as providing participants with food for their animals. “The program involves the existence of other additional goods that could compete with a person’s nutrition and above all, water, because the poorest areas are in the driest areas. There is a direct relation between poverty and a shortage of water,” Stuart said.

But María del Carmen Calero, 70, from the town of Ticuantepe, east of the capital, hopes to benefit from the program and is optimistic about the results it could bring: “We have the hope that the Zero Hunger program will help us overcome poverty. I live with (my) four daughters and their husbands, and my son and his wife. We share a 1.7 acre space with my grandchildren.”



María del Carmen Calero Cerna
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